By James Manning
As race became the topic of discussion this past week, it was interesting reading the reaction of people as much as it was following the actual events. I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction from everyone who listened to the Donald Sterling tapes where he placed black people in a permanent second class status. The response was an unequivocal damnation from every corner of our society. Although you had a few individuals who attempted to defend the man, but that’s what Fox News does with racists.
The Los Angeles Clippers players were angry and their first statement came in the form of a silent protest. This is where things got interesting. There were many in social media who thought the players should boycott the game and labeled them soft for having played. There was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the player’s reaction; “they should have sent a stronger message” was a constant response I read.
Then I read the article “Black People Are Cowards” on Gawker.com and the number of cosigners surprised me although it should not have. I have an issue with those who suggest the players did not respond harshly enough and I especially have an issue with the Gawker article because the sentiments highlight the deficiency in the black community when it comes to engaging the majority community in correcting past and ongoing injustices.
My last post on how the black community should change its strategy of political engagement is the perfect segue into discussing how we should change our strategy on social issues. In fact, the problem is that we do not have a strategy. We react.
Calls for a boycott of the game is a tamer version of throwing a Molotov cocktail through Sal’s window (watch Do the Right Thing… seriously, watch Do the Right Thing) with no thought into what comes next.
Similar to the LA Riots, this was a reactionary move. Although the anger and hurt was legitimate emotions after such a horrendous verdict, the riot itself served no purpose at all. A quick Google search of “the aftermath of the LA Riots”, lists article after article documenting how little things have changed in the area. What little rebuilding did take place did not include black people. There was no increase in black owned businesses and currently the relationship between blacks and Koreans is tenuous at best.
I don’t want to discount the level of frustration built up over decades of non-action on the part of politicians and the police department that preceded the riots. It is an extreme example, but the gist of my argument that the black community did not get a favorable outcome because reactionary emotions aren’t sustainable. It is impossible to re-energize that level of emotion and engagement once the initial phase passes. Think of the number of times people have tried to re-enact the Million Man March. None has galvanized the community in a way that comes close to the first. Even that historic event didn’t bear fruit as many hoped.
When responding to situations such as the Donald Sterling fiasco, the first thing to consider is what the retribution that is sufficient, and what is the process for ensuring results are forthcoming? People who called for the boycott of Game 4 and labeled the players cowards continued their indignation even after the NBA banned Sterling. These same people stated they wanted to hit Sterling where it mattered, in the pocketbook. At the same time they claimed that the ban was insufficient because of his billionaire status.
Black people are not cowards. We are at times married to reaction and not results. And even when the reaction is nonsensical like suggesting people stay home from work until tenure rules in public schools are changed, or go on strike until police officer involved in the Rodney King beating are fired, we use our anger to validate “reactions” without any thought to the process to results.
I suggest that black people channel our righteous indignation into a process whereby we first identify a reasonable outcome, then outline the escalating steps where we can reasonably expect success. We need to do things that can outlast the initial emotional outburst with benchmarks and timelines that clearly denotes when an escalation will occur. Moreover, when one’s reaction to injustice does not comport with the level of anger warranted, coward is not a word we should associate with those involved if there is an opportunity to apply sustained pressure.
Let’s get organized, get a plan, outline what we want… then rage against the machine. To do otherwise is about as useful as burning down our own neighborhoods, and when have we ever benefited from that?by